Learn to speak like a Jamaican in three easy steps

Are you dreaming of jetting off to the Caribbean when this extended period of social distancing is over? Why not jump on the armchair travel trend and learn to speak like a Jamaican while you plan for the day you’ll be free to move around again? It’s no secret one of the best ways to immerse yourself in another culture is teach yourself how to communicate with residents in their local lingo.

Below are fun, short instructional videos to help you learn to speak like a Jamaican in three easy steps.


In this 1st episode you’ll learn how to greet someone with our Caribbean lilt to your tongue.

Phrases used:

Whah a gwaan?
What’s going on?

How yuh duh?
How are you doing?

Yuh awrite?
Are you okay? As in, you good?

Asking for directions

Now here are two basic ways to ask for directions:

Phrases used:

Weh di [insert name] deh?
Where is the __?

Weh mi can fine __?
Where can I find [insert name of place]

Terms of address

For Lesson 3, we explore common words that are used when speaking to someone you consider a friend or colleague.

Phrases used:


Have you ever been to the land of Red Strip beer, and some of the most well-known reggae music and sports icons? Not yet? As soon as it’s safe to travel again, you should go check it out.

Additional links to help you learn to speak like a Jamaican:

The traveler’s Instagram guide to understanding Jamaican slang

11 colorful expressions only a Jamaican would understand

Short on time in Memphis? You’ve gotta try these four things.

Beale Street lit sign

Are you flying into Memphis stoked about your new adventure but a little concerned you’ll be short on time to explore the city? Don’t stress. I was there for a three-day weekend and still managed to have a blast, so you can too.

Since I knew I wouldn’t have much time to run around town, the first thing I did was ask my cab driver what were the top three things I just had to experience while there. Without skipping a beat, he recommended “the river, the music, and the food.”  Well, regrettably, with a full day devoted to an event I was attending, I didn’t have time go on one of the many river rides, some of which take you all the way down to New Orleans. However, I did treat my stomach, my ears and my hips quite generously.  How so, I hear you asking. We’ll get to that in minute, hunnie. Just keep reading!

These are my top suggestions for things to see and do if you’re short on time in Memphis:

Eat, eat, EAT

Barbecue at B.B. King Jazz Club Memphis

My driver wasn’t exaggerating when he said Memphis was known for its food, and it’s by no means just a one-hit culinary wonder that solely serves up sumptuous barbecue. Whether you like chicken, steak, pulled pork, or delicious soul food, Memphis has it all in abundance. I’m 1000% serious.  You cannot leave without first filling up your plate and then devouring everything in sight – at a restaurant or two.

The Rendevous, an old-fashioned eatery in a large basement dining room, is known for its hearty servings of ribs and sausages in a vinegar base, topped with dry-rub spices.  Central BBQ is another hot spot, but their specialties are wet ribs and nachos. For some home-cooked styled meals with tummy-rubbing sides like mac and cheese, black-eyed peas, beans, candied sweet potatoes, cornbread and more, 99¢ Soul Food Express, Alcenia’s and Gus’s Fried Chicken come highly recommended. Feeling for lighter, breakfast and brunch fare? Blue Plate Café on South Court Avenue may be just the answer for you. The service is friendly and brisk, and they serve warm maple syrup with their pancakes. Yum.

Immerse yourself in the music

Live ,usic in Memphis

When one town can offer up world-famous entertainers like Elvis, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Otis Reading, Isaac Hayes and more over time, that’s got to be worth looking into, right? Music sits on you like a second skin and feels as natural as the air you breathe in Memphis. You can take the historic route and visit one or more of the many venues that chart the musical journeys of the city’s beloved hitmakers, or you can immerse yourself in the present and enjoy the soulful sounds of many talented musicians that play live music daily.

For a foray into the area’s ties to rhythm-n-blues, rock n’ roll, gospel and jazz, visit either the Stax Museum, Sun Studio, Blues Hall of Fame, Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Graceland, or the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. Then time travel to today and head to Beale Street to sway your hips to the blues. There are several places to choose from, like Blues City Café and Rum Boogie Cafés Blues Hall Juke Joint, but as far as I am concerned,  B.B. King’s Blues Club is where it’s at. There is a $10 cover charge to watch the show even if you’re dining, but the food, the drinks, the melodies and the atmosphere are definitely worth it.

Visit the National Civil Rights Museum

Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King was assasinated

The National Civil Rights Museum, housed in what used to be the Lorraine Motel, is a riveting and emotional learning opportunity for ALL people (not just during Black History Month), and one which is especially poignant for people of African descent. The self-guided tour starts with a brief film and subsequent exhibits are arranged in chronological order to relay key milestones of the American Civil Rights Movement, going from slavery up to 1968. It is also the location where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. 

I found it hard to believe that his end came so violently after a life devoted to peaceful protest, especially seeing that only four short years before he had penned his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Bimini (The Bahamas). The entrance fee to the museum also includes access to the boarding house across the street, which shows you the window from which the sniper fired the fatal shot.

Check out the street art

A Day in the life mural_Memphis

Like almost everything else in the city, the art and culture scene is poppin’ too. In addition to interesting galleries, there are tons of colorful wall murals with varying sizes and themes, so if graffiti art is your jam and you are short on time in Memphis, check out this Downtown Memphis Mural Guide to pick your Instagram backdrop spots ahead of time.  Most places are super easy to get to with the trolley, walking a few blocks, or via the bus or a cab.

Have you been to Memphis? What else would you recommend?

6 Fun things to do in St. Thomas, USVI

Often referred to as America’s Paradise, The United States Virgin Islands is a group of breathtaking islands nestled in the eastern Caribbean, a little over 1000 miles southeast of Miami and 1,500 miles from New York City. Each of the four main islands has its own claim to fame, but St. Thomas, the capital, is home to a busy cruise port and airport, so it’s usually the first stop on any wanderluster’s journey.

Earlier this year, I jetted there to enjoy my fair share of fruity drinks, turquoise blue waters, jaw-dropping views and small-island hospitality before hopping over to Scrub Island Resort to celebrate my birthday. With only two days on the ground, I had fun, but activity wise I didn’t even scratch the surface.

Below are my suggestions for 6 fun things to do in St. Thomas, USVI if that country is on your bucket list.

Laze on the beach

Laze on the Beach_St. Thomas

According to this St. Thomas Beach Guide, they’re about 40 stretches of sand or intimate coves to choose from. Some of the most popular ones are Magens Bay, Secret Harbor, Brewer’s Bay, Coki Beach, Sapphire Beach, Hull Bay and Lindquist Beach, among others. I don’t know about you, but there’s just something about a palm-fringed shoreline that unleashes my inner do-nothing-at-all-but-lay-under-the shade-or play-in-the-water beach bum. But if you’re hankering for more action, you can easily rent gear to go snorkeling, scuba diving, jet skiing or stand up paddle boarding.

Go on an island tour

Hiring a taxi to go on a guided island tour is also a no-brainer.  The island’s stunning scenery is dramatically showcased from its hilly peaks, and with its vast mountain ranges, there’s no shortage of mind-blowing views along the winding roads. Of course, you can rent a car and see the island at your own pace too, but if heights scare you, or you have a limited time to sightsee, having a knowledgeable driver is the way to go. That way, you never have to worry about getting lost, and you get to ask questions about the country’s history and culture.

Drink a banana daiquiri atop the highest mountain

Mountain Top, a popular tourist attraction located at the highest point on the island, draws tons of visitors each year because of its coveted observation deck, duty-free shopping and the lure of its signature drink: a Cruzan rum inspired banana daiquiri. Local folklore says the recipe was created by a famous British sea captain who sailed from Barbados on a quest to find the ultimate Caribbean cocktail. Apparently, his search ended there when he mixed the local rum with additional sugar cane extract and ripe bananas from a nearby grove to concoct his perfect drink. Go test it and see what you think. Insider tip:  Try to visit on a non-cruise ship day when the crowds aren’t overwhelming, and people aren’t acting bat crazy.

Take a safari ride

The local buses are called safaris, and I suspect they were given that name because they resemble the open-air vehicles you usually see people driving on African safaris.  You can use them to sightsee much like you’d use a hop on and hop off bus in one of the big European cities. There’s no all-day or two-day ticket system, though. There are two routes – divided by Tutu Valley – and if you’re riding anywhere west of there, say from Charlotte Amalie or Havensight to Tutu, the fare is one dollar.  From the east, which has beaches like Coki Point and Secret Harbor, it’s also a dollar to Tutu. Longer rides, with multiple legs on the trip, can cost more. But basically, you can get to most of the island and back to your hotel for under six dollars.

From what I could tell, the safaris are all independently owned, and while consistent, there is no master schedule re times of operation, or any officially marked bus stops.  Just ask a local to point you in the general direction of where they stop, and wave them down as they approach.

Sample the local fare

Image Source: hlsvi.com

I’m a big supporter of sampling local cuisines when I travel, so as far as I am concerned, no trip to the Caribbean is complete without treating yourself to waterfront meals that delight your taste buds – especially if they are built around boat to plate seafood prepared with only the freshest of ingredients. For my first evening out, I ate the most amazing fish meal at Hook Line & Sinker, a small eatery tucked at the end of a narrow street in the center of town with yachts and majestic hills as the backdrop. The service and atmosphere were great too. But there are several options. Just ask your front desk agent or a local for recommendations.

For great local breakfasts, Delly Deck in Havensight Mall got rave reviews, Mafolie Hotel & Restaurant is known for its American Caribbean cuisine, and I was told Island Flavor in Crown Bay is where to go for some real island grub.

Island hop

Thanks to proximity and good transportation options, it’s very easy to take in the natural beauty of St. John or experience the charming history and culture in St. Croix while in the US Virgin Islands.  Tortola, the capital of the British Virgin Islands is also a short and inexpensive ferry ride away, and from there you can easily get to even more islands. A roundtrip boat ticket from St. Thomas to Tortola costs US$65, and as part of the price, you are allowed what airlines would call one personal item. Carry-on bags are an additional $5 each.  Since they are a different territory, US citizens will need to show their passports at the port of entry, and other nationalities may need a British visa. Everyone pays a $10 environmental fee on arrival, plus a $20 departure tax (per person) at departure. Kids under 5 are exempt.

Editor’s Notes:

Official Language: English, which is often mixed with patois (PA-twah).

Currency: US dollars.

Time Zone: Atlantic Standard Time (Daylight Savings Time is not recognized).

Passport Info: No passport is required for U.S. citizens arriving from Puerto Rico or the mainland, but you must have a valid driver’s license.

Where to find art and culture in Kansas City, Missouri

Did you know that both Missouri and Kansas have a metropolitan area called Kansas City?  Well, I didn’t realize that until three years ago.  Before then, the Wizard of Oz was my only visual reference of Kansas, so when I looked around on my drive from the airport, I expected to see flat plains, large rolls of hay and an austere, dull landscape – maybe even a random pair of red shoes and a scarecrow. But nah, it wasn’t even close.

Known for its popular barbecue joints, chic rehabbed districts, growing number of microbreweries, World War 1 Museum, and contributions to the evolution of jazz, Kansas City, Missouri, is trendier and filled with more outlets for arts and culture than you’d think. In fact, in 2012 it was named one of America’s top cities for hipsters by Travel + Leisure.

Venues for art and culture

Art Alley

If you’re into the budding street art scene, head over to 17th and 18th Streets near Locust and Cherry to see wall murals that are big, colorful and bold. Freelance artist Jason Harrington is credited with starting the movement to spruce up the buildings in the area, but paintings are done by people from all over the city. The art changes regularly, so each trip there is likely to unveil new murals.


The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Named in honor of a founder and editor of the Kansas City Evening Star, William Rockhill Nelson, and Mary McAfee Atkins, the Nelson-Atkins Museum houses close to 40,000 works of art from all over the world. In addition, outside there is also a sculpture garden that showcases an amazing collection of 35+ pieces by many of the 20th century’s finest artists. Installations include monumental bronze works by Henry Moore and the Instaworthy shuttlecocks by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Admission is free, but you pay for parking.


American Jazz Museum

Are there any jazz lovers here? After a day of browsing what I considered to be one of the coolest places in Kansas City, I discovered that the 18th and Vine District – not just New Orleans, St. Louis and Chicago – was also the base for many pioneering jazz greats who performed at nightclubs that fueled a creative and vibrant music scene in the 30s and 40s. Yes, maestros like Charlie Parker, Big Joe Turner, Jay McShann, Count Basie, and a ton of other jazz icons added their flava to the town’s musical history in a time when separatism was still the order of the day.

If possible, plan your visit late in the day on a Friday afternoon and stay for the Indigo Hour at the onsite jazz club, Blue Room. It features soul-stirring music from local R&B and Neo-Soul musicians from 5:00 pm – 7:30 pm, with no cover charge.


Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

For a foray into the performing arts, check their calendar of events and schedule a visit to the impressive Kauffman Center. It’s both a cultural and architectural icon in the city, and it attracts a wide variety of entertainers and performances from around the world. Shows range from ballet and contemporary dance, to Broadway plays, music concerts, opera, comedy shows, and more.


Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

The Kemper Museum features modern and contemporary works by artists who are well-established, mid-way in their journey, and newbies on the up and up. Staying true to its mission of enriching lives through the display of art in a free and welcoming environment, it also offers access to special exhibitions, installations, workshops and lectures.  If you get hungry while browsing the venue, no need to worry. Just saunter into their elegant snack bar, Café Sebastienne, where art, culture and cuisine combine to provide you with a multisensory experience.


And that’s my list! All my favortite places to find art and culture in Kansas City, Missouri, at your fingertips.

Liked this article? Okay, I’m sure you know the drill. Sharing is caring!

Kansas City arts and culture venues

7 Not-to-be-missed activities in Curaçao

Color in Curacao

Curaçao’s natural beauty, diverse cultural heritage, historic landmarks, flavorful restaurants, beaches, and multilingual population makes it one of the most arresting, value-driven destinations in the Caribbean.  Even though the country is a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, it’s it’s only about 40 miles away from Venezuela, and flights to this Dutch Antilles island are only two hours and 50 mins from Miami.

This past January, my family and I saw economy roundtrip airfares going for US$178 on Norwegian Air that just couldn’t be beat. So, we did what any budget travelers would do – booked a trip and had a blast. If Curaçao is on your to-do list, here are some activities you should try not to miss.

Enjoy an evening of jazz at the Kura Hulanda Village & Spa

If you’re in Willemstad on a Friday night, head over to this restored village in the Otrabanda section of town to enjoy the music of a local jazz band. The resort serves an affordable wok buffet in a pleasant, outdoor setting while you sing along to the sweet melodic sounds of classics such as When I Fall in Love (Nat King Cole), Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Baby (Barry White) and Georgia on My Mind (Ray Charles). Jazz fans, prepare to be blown away.

Explore historic Willemstad

From the moment you start crossing the island’s iconic Queen Emma’s Bridge (the oldest and longest pontoon bridge in the world) to enter Punda, you’ll be besotted with its picturesque waterfront strip. Locally referred to as Handelskade, which means Merchant’s Wharf, it’s a vibrant nod to the country’s Dutch legacy. The area houses offices and retail businesses in 18th century buildings similar to the ones you’ll see dotting Amsterdam canals. There’s one startling difference, though. A kaleidoscope of color!

Stop at the tourist information booth and talk to the local rep, then grab a map and take a self-guided walking tour of the capital. Points of interest include the floating market, Pietermaii District (one of the most photogenic spots you can find anywhere), outdoor cafés, shops filled with crafts and souvenirs, and two giant-sized installations: one that says Curacao, and another that spells Dushi, a local expression meaning ‘sweet’ or ‘nice’.

Visit Rif Fort

Rif Fort was built at the entrance of the St. Anna Bay in the 1900s to protect the city from pirates and enemies. Once guarded with 5-foot-thick coral wall and 56 cannons, it prided itself on being bombproof, aloof and insular. Today, it has been transformed into a welcoming place for visitors who can appreciate a variety of dining and shopping experiences set amidst an historic venue. In addition to good food, good views and good vibes, this UNESCO World Heritage Site offers nightly entertainment Thursday through Saturday. On your way there, you can peruse the artisan craft market, ask to join a friendly domino game among the locals usually taking place near the taxi stands, or simply stand back and watch the action unfold.

Try local foods

Since food is one of the best ways to experience a new culture – and Curaçao’s cuisine is a tasty mix of Dutch, Afro-Caribbean, Spanish and Indonesian influences – you can’t leave town without trying a few local favorites. Arepa, which is made of corn but looks like a puffier version of pita bread, is a popular dish with different fillings. Stoba, their name for hearty stews made with various combinations of meat and vegetables, is another one.  Goat stew (kabritu) is the most common, and if you’re looking for the truly authentic stuff, go to Miss Yvonne’s stall at the food court in the Marsche Bieuw market in Willemstad.  Other notable dishes include ayaka (meat tamales wrapped in banana leaves), bitterballen (meatballs), sult (pickled pigs ears and feet), fish tacos, cactus soup, and okra soup.

For drinks, other than the obvious Blue Curaçao Liqueur, you have to try a batido, which is a delicious fruit shake that doubles as a smoothie.  In most places you select which fruit combinations you want, and the vendors add condensed milk and sugar to it. I heard there’s a food truck in Punda called 100% Batidos that sells these yummy fruit concoctions, but I opted for the healthier option – without the added sweetness – so I went to La Bohème for all-natural goodness instead. I left obsessed…and satisfied!

Sip cocktails at the super trendy Saint Tropez Ocean Club

While Saint Tropez Ocean Club is a good seaside spot to watch the sun slip below the horizon any day of the week, it is THE place to be on a Friday night. Because it’s where all the cool, beautiful and well-dressed people hang out. The owners ensure loyal patronage by offering two Happy Hours; one from 6-7 p.m. and another from 9-10 p.m., with most drinks going for half the price. And DJs turn the place up by enthusiastically spinning dance tunes from 10 p.m. – 1 a.m.  Guys, be sure to pack some linen shirts and khakis for this joint. Ladies, you better throw in some cute dresses, too.

Go on an island tour

We didn’t rent a car for this trip, so we booked a seven-hour island tour with Peter Trips to see some more of the island. Stops along the way included a visit to The Liqueur Factory, Boca Tabla (an underground cavern in Shete Boka National Park), the Salt Lakes of Jan Kok (where we saw flamingos), Knip Beach, and Westpunt where we had lunch. We also drove through Punda and the Scharloo District, and the Spanish Water area.

Beach hop

Lastly, with more than 38 public beaches and five private ones to choose from, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you left the country without visiting a few of them. From downtown, it’s easy to hop on a local bus and get to Mambo Beach, which is just four miles to the south. Expect a white-sand shoreline, cabanas, many on-site amenities like restaurants and a volleyball court, and crystal blue waters. It costs US$2 to get there plus an entrance fee of about $3.50 to swim. Beach chairs are at an additional cost. Other coveted sections of prime, sandy real estate include Playa Kalki, Klein Knip, Cas Abao, Jan Thiel, and Blue Bay beach.


Save this info for later or share it with a friend!

The Ultimate Caribbean Christmas Playlist

If you’re a Caribbean national who couldn’t make it home this Christmas, or are an intrepid traveler of the region who is stuck in snow wishing you were lounging sun-kissed under a palm tree right now, grab a pen. This playlist is for you!

I am 100% positive it will invoke whimsical memories of sun, sand and sea, because I polled some of my closest Facebook friends to find out their favorite Yuletide songs. Their recommendations are below in no particular order:

The Great John L – Green Christmas (Virgin Islands)

Joseph Niles  – Have A Merry Christmas (Barbados)

Daisy Voisin – Alegria Alegria (Trinidad and Tobago parang)

Stephanie Hava – The Christmas Collection including Mary Did You Know ( Jamaica)

Hector Lavoe y Willie Colon – Aires de Navidad (Puerto Rico)

San Jose  – Se Va El Caiman (Trinidad and Tobago parang)

Boney M – Mary’s Boy Child (Euro-Caribbean)

Alston Becket Cyrus – Calypso Noel (Saint Vincent)

Carlene Davis – Santa Claus Do You Ever Come to the Ghetto (Jamaica)

Bindley Benjamin – Santa Looking For A Wife (Trinidad)

Baron – Caminante (Trinidad and Tobago parang)

Dean Fraser – Frosty The Snowman (Jamaica)

Home T 4 – Rock it for Christmas (Jamaica)

Jacob Miller & Ray I – Natty Christmas, Full Album (Jamaica)

Rikki Jai – Neighbour Neighbour (Trinidad and Tobago)

Byron Lee & The Dragonaires – Christmas Soca Party Medley (Jamaica)

Lord Kitchener – Drink Ah Rum (Trinidad and Tobago)

Susan Macio – Trini Christmas Is The Best (Trinidad and Tobago)

So head over to YouTube or iTunes and listen to these soothing, rhythmic sounds of the islands while you sip ponche de crème, ginger beer or sorrel. Of course, I also expect you to be eating heaping servings of two or more of the region’s traditional holiday menu items. That’d be mouthwatering delicacies like baked ham, crab and callaloo, curried goat, roasted chicken, jug-jug, gungo rice and peas, black cake, cassava pone, pastelles, and much more.

Caribbean Christmas music

Only 36 Hours in New Orleans? Here are 9 Itinerary suggestions

Some destinations are known for stunning natural scenery, while the appeal of others lies in instantly recognizable landmarks, the significance of the location’s history, its music scene, or culinary identity. But very few, like New Orleans, have most of those attributes with the added distinction of being world-renown for SOUL.Jaz musician statues at ouis Armstrong Park_New Orleans

And I don’t mean soul solely in terms of the definition normally ascribed to the African-American context that infers being steeped in black culture or ethnic pride. No, the Big Easy has soul in a much broader sense because it exudes an emotion, a passion, and an intensity that transcends race and ethnicity. I’d liken it to an intangible, but visceral force that leaps across socio-economic, political, generational and geographic chasms to make you forget about your respective backgrounds for long enough to absorb just the right amount of its crackling energy.

Plan for a long stay, but if you only have 36 hours, here are nine itinerary suggestions:

Take a city tour
You can do bus tours, food tours, or go on historic walking tours. My sister and I planned this trip for our parent’s wedding anniversary, so with seniors on board in the heat of the summer, we opted to sightsee on an air-conditioned bus. The ride took us past the French Quarter, the Garden District, the famous Superdome, the Tremé neighborhood, and the Ninth Ward area that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

The stories of the city’s resilience and its sights were impressive, but one of the biggest highlights of the drive for me was getting to see the William Frantz Elementary School where 6-year-old Ruby Bridges boarded the steps in 1960 and did her part to end school segregation. The building is small, but I can’t imagine how huge and imposing it must have seemed back then to that tiny little girl.

Ride the streetcar 

New Orleans Streer Car
The streetcar is such a novel and neat way to see different parts of the city that you should add it to your list. The NOLA three-line, streetcar system is one of the oldest operated ones in the world. One of the cool things about it is if you ride all the way to the end of one line, you just get up and turn your seats around to face the other way on the return. Plus, it’s cheap! At US$3 for a 24-hour pass, its prices beat even Uber and Lyft.

Eat, eat… and then eat some more
Let me warn you now, do not go to New Orleans if you’re on a diet! The food is so outstanding, by trying to watch calories you will be losing out. What I liked best is the wide range of culinary offerings available everywhere, which means you don’t have to dress up and pay fancy prices to savor the deliciousness that abounds. We tried to avoid the tourist traps by eating local, and oh me oh my, the hotel staff and taxi drivers sure didn’t steer us wrong. 

If you’re a fan of shrimp, gumbo and crawfish/crayfish, I have two words for you: Cajun Seafood. It’s a small, stand-up-and-order-at-the counter eatery on 1479 N. Claiborne Avenue that serves seafood by the plate or pound. You get fantastic tasting meals with humungous servings at half the price you’d pay in even the most basic restaurant in the French Quarter.

If you’re staying in the business district and are looking for good ole homestyle breakfast and lunch options that are easy on the taste buds AND your pocket, you can try Commerce Restaurant on Camp Street or P & G Restaurant and Bar on Baronne Street.

Other must-try signature meals elsewhere include beignets (Morning Call Coffee Stand), pralines (Leah’s Pralines), fried chicken (Dooky Chase or Willie Mae’s), and jambalaya (Jacques IMO Café). I didn’t get to try them all, but those places come highly recommended.

Visit City Park

Relaxing in City Park, New Orleans
City Park is NOLA’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park, and it is a lovely 1,300-acre green oasis lined with stately historic oaks. The outdoor art in The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden is outstanding, but if art isn’t your thing you can check out the botanical garden, or go walk, bike or hike the pathways in the seemingly limitless space adorned with dramatic moss canopies.

Watch live jazz
Music is so interwoven into the history of the city that no visit would be complete without enjoying a live jazz show. It’s quite likely you’ll hear it on the streets from performers who really should already have a record deal, but it you’re looking for more ambiance in your music setting you can plan to visit a hall or showroom. I enjoyed listening to the vocal gymnastics of Mayo Jones at the Royal Sonesta Hotel. They didn’t charge a cover, but there was a one drink minimum rule per set.

Other popular places I heard about were Tipitina’s (which had a Free Fridays night), Preservation Hall and One Eyed Jacks.

Visit the French Quarter

The infamous Mardis Gras stories, and the non-stop revelry and liquor-laced shenanigans that take place along Canal Street and Bourbon Street make the French Quarter famous, but there’s much more to that area than bawdy behavior and colorful, fishbowl-sized go cups. Public monuments in what was once the original town square have French and Spanish architectural design influences that are interesting to see, but the pièce de résistance is its cluster of charming Creole townhouses and cottages.

Go on a riverboat cruise
This is a popular way to get out on the water to see the city. I took the Steamboat Natchez Cruise on the Sunday morning before I left, and it was a relaxing way to recharge my batteries after an action-packed visit. There are also lunch and dinner cruise options that allow you to eat while you glide downriver.

Try a cemetery Tour
Because the city is below sea-level, the residents have a unique way of burying their dead, so cemetery tours are common. On my bus tour, the driver made a brief stop at the Metairie Cemetery, where we got to hear about their burial process and see some of NOLA’s above-ground tombs. I admit this kind of thing is not for everybody, but it is different.

Learn about black heritage and the history of jazz

NOLA Black History & Jazz tour
I encourage you to get off the beaten path to spend about two and a half hours with Mikhala Iversen, a Danish/American jazz singer and recording artist who set up her company – All Bout Dat Tours – to showcase aspects of the New Orleans story not being covered by the other plantation, swamp and ghost tour companies. The history lesson starts at Louis Armstrong Park where she talks about the forced transatlantic journey of enslaved Africans, their subsequent stories of pain and resistance, and their ensuing reliance on music and the healing drum circles of Congo Square, which is attributed as the birthplace of jazz.

If you’re so inclined, you can chant along with her to “spiritual libations” that purportedly evoke good energy and healing under one of the oak trees near the square. Later, she takes you to Bayou Road, which is in one of the oldest African-American neighborhoods in the United Sates. There you’ll find primarily black-owned businesses, so take extra money to support them by buying books, local art, and African fabric, as well as things like handmade soaps and jewelry. If you go into the community bookstore to browse for trinkets, please say hello to Miss Jennifer, a sweet-natured woman who doles out hugs like she could be everyone’s grandma.
Editor’s Notes

Other travel tips to note:
1. Hotels in the French Quarter are closest to the all-day, all-night tourist action, but they also tend to be expensive and noisy.
2. If you want to be close by, but not in the thick of things, book accommodations in the business district near the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line.
3. Canal Street separates the French side from the English side of town and the streets have names in both languages, so take note of your surroundings carefully. Don’t fall prey to any crafty, metered taxi drivers who may take you on an extra long route to drop you off right across the street.
4. Shopaholics, I was told Magazine Street has 60 blocks of retail therapy just waiting to take your money.
5. Bar loving babes and gents, happy hour starts at 1pm on a Friday and the drinks keep flowing. NOLA residents will proudly tell you, “You will pass out before they run out.”

Did you find this post helpful? If you did, please help someone else by sharing it.  [Pin below]

Heading to Greece soon? Try not to miss Meteora and Delphi

It blows my mind that Meteora isn’t a New World Wonder because it should be. Located in central Greece, this mystical place – a cluster of enormous rock formations topped by monasteries that appear to be suspended in the air almost 1500 feet above sea level – is a stunning masterpiece of nature that’s nothing short of a geological and architectural marvel.
Historians believe the rocks got their impressive shapes through drastic erosion during the Middle Ages, and its massive craters, caves, crevices and peaks offered protection to the locals from the raids of several conquerors. Over time, hermits sought refuge there as the remoteness, height and tranquility of the environment helped them feel more in tune with God and divinity. Eventually, they started building monasteries to live in, and 24 structures were completed and occupied by the late 14th century. Only six buildings are in operation today.

The monks practiced their faith with vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, so their lives were simple. And without many material assets, their daily work was hard. 

Imagine living a life of fasting and unceasing prayer and having to make that ascent or descent for supplies in baskets, with scaffolding supported on beams that were driven into the rocks! Thankfully, today we can drive on paved roads and walk up or down evenly-placed steps without too much hassle. Even if you have no strong religious leanings, this place is so spectacular and photo op worthy, it is a must-see.

How to get there
From Athens, you can take a train, car or bus. The travel times are approximately 5 hours by train, 4+ hours by car and 7-8 by bus. You can find details on routes and schedules here.

What you can see and do
You can visit the monasteries to see the chapels, frescoes and artifacts dating from the 14th to 16th centuries, as well as listen to captivating tales about the monks’ motivations, traditions, and way of life. Strict dress codes are enforced, which means no bare shoulders are allowed and women must wear skirts inside. Ladies, if you’re planning to pack only jeans or shorts, don’t worry. You can get a wrap-around skirt at the entrance and return it when you are leaving,Meteora Monastery

The more adventurous thrill seekers among us can get all James Bond while there and go rock climbing, exploring caves, mountain biking, rafting, and more.  If you need a visual of one type of toe-curling action possible, you need look no further than the movies. Roger Moore actually filmed an action sequence in Meteora at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity for his 1981 Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only”. I’ve included a YouTube clip below. Just don’t try it on your own.

Note: To break up the journey to or from Athens, you can stop at the foot of Mount Parnassos to visit the Delphi historic site, a former cultural and religious center which was the sanctuary of Apollo and the shrine of his oracle. It is 80 kilometers northwest of Athens.

(Hover to the middle right section of the below image and scroll right to see another picture and video)



All the reasons why Montreal had me saying YASSS in the summer

Dance group from Montreal

June to August is peak tourist season in Montreal for good reason. The weather is amazing (as in, temperatures in the mid-to high 70s = ZERO wind-chill factor); they have multiple outdoors festivals and events (many of which are free); good food abounds everywhere; and the city transforms into a pulsing hub of non-stop activity. Add pedestrian-friendly streets, a good public transport system, plus a Parisienne look and feel (with friendly locals) to that and you have a sure winner in my book.

These are some of the reasons Montreal is likely to win you over, too.

Multiple Festivals Busy street scene in Montreal, Canada

Although I was told the city is teaming with fun options year round, it seems things come to a glorious crescendo in the summer. Music lovers can rock to indie beats at Osheaga, a multi-day festival that happens across six stages at Montreal’s Parc Jean-Drape.au, or savor soulful sounds at the Montreal Jazz Festival, which was verified by Guinness World Record in 2004 as the largest jazz festival in the world. With 20 stages, and reportedly close to 3,000 artists from more than 30 countries and 650+ concerts, it’s hard to imagine any other saxophone-trumpet-trombone party rivaling that. Events on outdoor stages are free, but you pay for those held inside concert halls.

Are electronic music and digital arts more your thing? Don’t worry, Montreal has you covered with MUTEK, too. And if you enjoy bass-heavy rhythmic sounds of music with African and Afro-Caribbean roots, I have two words for you – Nuits D’Afrique.

If you take your humor seriously, plan to check out Just For Laughs. It’s a four-day comedy show that features the likes of sought-after performers like Jim Carrey, Trevor Noah, Howie Mandel, Girls Trip breakout star, Tiffany Haddish, and many more.

Street side performances Festival performers in MOntreal, Canada

I can’t tell you how delightful it was to be able to walk a few blocks from my hotel on rue Jeanne-Mance and run into both amateur and skilled artists giving spontaneous or scheduled performances. Whether it was high-flying acrobats from Montréal Cirque Festival or La Rue Complètement Cirque doing dizzying stunts, or outdoor entertainers of every age and genre dancing, or singing while strumming home-made and/or impromptu instruments, the city’s talented and unofficial emissaries always managed to capture and hold my attention.

A vibrant arts scene Outdoor art installation in Montreal Canada

From the visually and structurally diverse outdoor art installations to impressively curated art galleries and museums bolstered by a budding underground movement, Montreal’s thriving art scene is ripe to be explored. I snapped photos of arresting curbside sculptures, and snuck into the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal (casually described as the MAC) to while away half a day viewing interactive and engaging exhibits from some of the world’s top contemporary creatives. I wasn’t in town long enough to also check out the Museum of Fine Arts, but I heard it has an impressive permanent collection of classic and modern visual pieces that’s free for everyone under 30. Of course, to guarantee repeat business, they also showcase temporary exhibitions on a rotating basis.

The fusion food lovers’ dream Sample trays of poutine in Montreal

I read a GQ article that labelled Montreal ‘a contender for continental culinary champion’, and when I got there I realized the writer wasn’t exaggerating. The food tastes like a fresh take on French cuisine mixed with exotic flavors from around the globe, no doubt brought in by residents from this self-proclaimed ‘nation of immigrants’.

Signature dishes include sesame-seed coated bagels; poutine, a calorie-laden snack of cheese curds served on top of fries and covered with gooey gravy; and smoked-meat sandwiches. You can sample all this gastronomic goodness on several of the city’s food tours, at local food fairs, or by popping into one of their many restaurants. My cab driver recommended Schwartz’s Deli for sandwiches and my conference packet had tempting Two for One specials on marinated pig knuckles and smoked meat at Brisket Montréal – Salon Krausmann. I didn’t get to try either place, but I can tell you this: I didn’t have a bad meal anywhere.

The architecture, the floral blooms, and the strong sense of community Old Montreal Building and flower maple leaf

Whether you’re walking down the cobblestone streets of Old Montréal, meandering through Vieux-Port, exploring downtown and Little Italy, or hiking up to the Plateau Mont-Royal, you’ll be in for a treat. Expect to be blown away by the dramatic cityscapes, the beautifully landscaped parks and gardens, and the feeling of being an observer of something larger than yourself. Because deep-rooted history and culture are evident everywhere.

Go visit Notre Dame Square to see the famous cathedral where Celine Dion got married, which is surrounded by a combination of neoclassical, art deco and Gothic revival building styles all in one place. And while you’re out and about, check out the colorful west side where stately gas lamps that never go off line some streets. Or, as you get closer to the International Quarter, step inside the World Trade Center to see a piece of the Berlin Wall that was donated to the city for its 350th anniversary. Of course, everywhere you turn you’ll also be able to revel in the city’s colorful summer blooms.

There’s a perfect Instagram opportunity around every corner

In today’s world, you haven’t truly gone on vacation if there’s no evidence of it on social media, right? HA. Well, you can read about some of my top recommended spots for photos here:

8 Made-for-Instagram spots in Montreal, Canada

When you go, I hope you have a good trip!


Now about this post. If you like it, you better put a PIN on it, okurrr.  Why are you raising your brow like that? Look at you looking like you didn’t know I was a  lil crazy (lol).

Bucket List Travel Basics for Machu Picchu, Peru

On April 17, 2001, I made a list of places I’d like to visit and Peru was on it because of Machu Picchu. I had just celebrated another birthday, and the scene of my personal strategy planning session was a departure gate in Chicago’s bustling O’Hare International airport. Back then, I used to set 5- and 10-year goals for things I hoped to achieve by a certain age. Instagram, the popular photo and video-sharing social networking service we all now turn to for travel inspiration had not yet launched (it did so on October 2010), and it was a little under three years before Facebook burst on the scene in February 2004. That’s clear proof my yen for seeing this historic site was not being influenced by any current travel trends, wouldn’t you agree?

This weekend, as I got ready to document my insights and tips on traveling to Machu Picchu, I glanced at the date on my laptop and realized it was April 29, 2018. Wow, I thought to myself, this trip has been a long time coming. Dreams – even if delayed – do come true! Sign og Machu PIcchu Town_Aguas Calientes_Peru

Below are the answers to everything I thought about and asked about before I went. I’ve also thrown in some on-the-ground insights for you as well. Please read this post and bookmark it if you plan to go.

For the best time of year, most people will tell you to book your trip for April to mid-June, or between September and October, since those months fall in the drier seasons and that time-frame keeps you safe from the avalanche of summer tourists. I’ve heard the last two weeks of June to the end of August are super packed.

Peru’s rainy season peaks between late January and March, so you can expect sporadic, light or heavy showers and fog at any time. I was there during the third week of March, but I got lucky because I got to tour the site and take as many pictures as I could before the skies opened up and rained down liquid sunshine.

For the best time of day, I’d recommend going during mid-morning hours (ideally between 8-10:30 a.m.) or in the afternoon from 3-4p.m. The busiest time is from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. If you are an early riser, you’ll be happy to know the first buses leave at 5:30 a.m. to take you to the site’s entrance. However, visibility isn’t great that early in the morning due to misty weather.

BEST WAYS TO GET THERE Getting to Machu PIcchu

Please note that not all of your travel has to be done in one day. I spent two full days exploring Lima, and stayed one night in Cusco before moving on to the Sacred Valley region to allow my body time to acclimatize to the changes in air pressure.  Breaking up the journey also  gives you time for additional things like wandering through local artisan markets, seeing other sights, and sampling a variety of drinks made from corn and local cacao beans.

After Cusco, I then spent one night in Agua Calientes so I could have a good night’s rest before my excursion to Mapi (that’s the name the locals lovingly use for South America’s most famous ruins).

There are simply not enough words to describe the epic greatness that is Machu Picchu. Expect phenomenal views, enlightening insights into the intricacies of Inca history and culture, and that once-in-a lifetime feeling of “I had better soak all of this in right now” as I may never walk this place again. The majesty of Machu Picchu_Peru

Here are a few other things to be aware of:

Opening hours are from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Plan to spend at least two hours there.

The entry fee to the main grounds is 152,00 Peruvian soles (approx. US$47), which you must purchase IN ADVANCE of the day you plan to visit because there is a daily limit to the number of tickets sold. You do not want to get there and be faced with no availability. This ticket price allows you to enter the grounds twice, and it gives you access to the main ruins you see in pictures, as well as to the Inca Bridge and the Sun Gate Trail. It does not allow you to hike the Inca Trails to the top of Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu. Tickets can be bought through a tour company, travel agency, in person in Aguas Calientes, or online. I found a useful guide to buying tickets here.

You’ll be asked to show your passport on the train, bus, and at the entrance.

No matter what you do, it will eventually get crowded and several guides will approach you to offer their services. The price varies based on the number of persons in your group.

Be careful about maneuvering several steps, many of which are uneven and steep, and without railings. (Wear comfortable shoes!) Rocky terrain at Machu Picchu

Altitude sickness is a very real possibility. I didn’t have any issues while touring the main grounds which are about 7,970 feet/2,430 meters above sea level. I just kept an even walking pace and took breaks, if needed. (However, I had to walk very slowly at the higher altitudes in Cusco and Ollantaytambo as I often found myself feeling out of breath.) If you plan to hike the Inca Trails, some sections go above 9,200 feet/2,804 meters, so you could experience symptoms like dizziness, headaches, muscle aches or nausea – regardless of age, gender, or level of fitness. I’d advise you to speak with your doctor before your trip in order to see what medications and tips you can use to better prepare for and/or avoid any adverse health effects.

There are no bathrooms or snack areas once you pass the entry point. Food consumption is actually forbidden inside the site. (Walk with your own bottle of water to stay hydrated because anything at Tinkuy Restaurant, which in inside the  luxury Sanctuary Lodge Hotel situated right outside the entrance, is expensive.)

Plan to pay two soles if you need to use the bathroom.

Budget for a charge of three soles to store your bag at the entrance, if you need to. It’s an invigorating walk around the site, so anything over 10 pounds/5 kilos is not encouraged.

There’s a ban on the use of tripods, although selfie-sticks are allowed.

You’ll be bombarded with multiple photo opps, so pack extra batteries and memory cards for your cameras and phones.

Look for the booth with the optional and complimentary, do-it-yourself passport stamp at the exit. Thatch covered structures at Machu PIcchu_Peru

OTHER COSTS (as at March 2018)

Hotels:  This number will vary depending on the type of accommodation selected and personal travel style preferences.  Three-, four- and five-star hotels are available in addition to Airbnb rentals and hostels.

In Lima, I wanted something nice that was infused with local character, so I opted to stay at a cute little Bed & Breakfast called Hotel de Autor in the coastal and tourist-friendly district of Miraflores. The property has four bedrooms that, as one Travel + Leisure article put it, are “individually designed, mixing vintage artifacts with contemporary furnishings.” Its dining room is a converted garage, and it has a small rooftop garden area and terrace where you can relax after a busy day of sightseeing and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city with a glass of your favorite beverage. The best parts about this property were the short walking distances to many shops and restaurants and the attentiveness of the staff. Miguel Payet was my point person and he was amazing. I paid $112.70 per night, plus taxes. _Peru

In Cusco, my pre-Machu Picchu night was part of a package deal with a tour company called Intrepid Travel. I didn’t like that hotel very much, so on my post Machu Picchu night in Cusco, I opted to stay at a place that was basic, clean and comfortable. It was called the Estancia San Blas. For an affordable rate of $49.97 per night, plus taxes, I was only a few blocks from the main square. Complimentary buffet breakfast was also included.

In Aguas Calientes, I stayed at Hostal Inti Punku Tambo, which was also included in my three-day Intrepid package. The current rate on Booking.com is $117 per night, plus taxes. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was in the center of town and close to everything. For one night, it will do. Rates were expensive there because the town is at the base of the mountain.

Ground Transportation: Costs for the taxis and the train are already outlined in the infographic chart above. A 30-minute bus ride takes you from Aguas Calientes to the entrance of Machu Picchu. The cost is $US 24 dollars for the return trip. Peru Rail


  1. The odd numbers on the train are window seats, so try snagging one of them for amazing views.
  2.  Arrive at the station at least 30 minutes before  your scheduled departure time, because they don’t dally when it’s time to leave. There’s no need to panic if you arrive early and don’t see the numbers on the railway cars.  They are put up close to departure time and staff members lead you by groups to your railcar with raised hand signs.
  3. Also, for greater ease in travel, it’s best to leave your wheeled luggage in storage at your hotel in Cusco and just pack a light overnight bag/backpack for your stay in Aguas Calientes.


Here’s the clincher: you can either arrange all this yourself, or you can take the easy route and book a short, yet comprehensive tour package, inclusive of local guides and lodging. That’s what I did! My three-day Intrepid Machu Picchu Explorer (Original) package included two nights hotel accommodations; two breakfasts and one lunch; ground transportation via bus and train; a Half Tourist Ticket Pass, which gives you access to selected archaeological sites in/around Cusco (like Pisac and the Ollantaytambo fortress); an orientation walk around Cusco; and the entrance fee to Machu Picchu with a guided tour. Rates start at US$683 per adult in a twin share room. The cost goes up if you’d rather not have a roomie.

If you only want help with the Machu Picchu portion, several companies  offer all-inclusive day trips. For example, while doing my research I found one day tour from Viator that departed from Cusco. It included hotel pick up and drop off, the cost of your train and bus ticket, plus the site’s entry fee. The price started at US$347. That seemed like a lot to me for just one day, but it all depends on your schedule and budget.

Whatever you decide to do, I hope you have a memorable time!

NOTE: You can also read some general tips about Peru here.

Stunning views at Machu PIcchu